Leveraging Advances in Vision Systems

Try to imagine the amount of data your eye can capture and how you process shapes and contrasting images. Your vision system only needs a small space and your system is mobile.

Machine vision easily outperforms the speed and processing of the human eye which is why it's such an important part of manufacturing automation. The technology is becoming so user friendly, compact and mobile that camera placement is flexible and there are systems a person can wear. Read about the impact of sensors, computing power, and camera placement on industrial automation.

More Compact and Powerful

New markets want machine vision without the PC, the GPU, or the hard drive. A trend is keeping the costs down and getting the technology reduced to the minimum, like a wearable system for the medical industry.

The military was first to fund chips for machine vision and imaging systems about a decade ago as noted in the article New Vision System-on-Chips Could be End of the Beginning for Machine Vision.  The consumer market followed and used embedded systems with chips with cell phones, autonomous robots used at Amazon, and gaming devices like Microsoft's Kinect sensor.

Industrial markets are cautious when taking risks, but now industrial machine vision companies are taking advantage of low-power microprocessors to make their smart cameras both more powerful and lower cost.

The spread of machine vision and its capabilities at an individual user level is like having a nuclear reactor in your home to power electricity, notes the New Vision-System-on-Chips write-up.

Imaging systems are consuming less power and are smart and mobile and this means manufacturers have more options for camera placement. They no longer have to be stationed above a robot workcell on a truss system or a single camera placed at the end of an arm connected to a PC.

Now, an entire system can be placed at the end of a robotic arm and made to interface directly with the robot.

Another developing innovation is cloud processing that can be used in slower production lines like sheet metal part fabrication and inspection. Users in manufacturing automation can upload every bit of video generated from the floor for later recall and analysis.

Less Mass and Momentum

The consumer electronics and semi-conductor industries are driving the use of

smaller-form cameras that are often are mounted on moving platforms. Using small cameras means less mass and momentum to deal with, which leads to faster throughput.

The workhorse that gets a lot of traction is a 5 mega-pixel camera, according to the article Electronics-Machine Vision Symbiosis Continues to Benefit Both Industries. High frame rates and global shutters are in demand because of movement around boards and disk drive assemblies. Companies want a blend of high resolution and hundreds of frames per second, which brings up CMOS cameras, useful for fast frames.

Greater Perception and Flexibility

One of the fastest growing areas of sensor development in automation and robotics is in perception. Sensors play a key role as noted in Intelligent Robots: A Feast for the Senses. Sensors are getting better, smaller, cheaper and easier to integrate. The computing power to crunch all the sensory data they churn out is getting faster and more robust. They’re shrinking in size but growing in capacity.

A vision system has to provide quality information to be effective. This includes backlighting, lens selection and filtering, but it's more than lights, camera, and action.  The article Robotics and Vision at a Glance: The Dos, Don'ts and Applications notes that other variables in the work cell must be accounted for, too, like the type of gripper on the robot and how the product size may or may not vary.

Advances in vision systems, force and tactile sensors, speech recognition, and even olfactory receptors are creating high-achieving robots able to do things and go places that their predecessors could only dream about.

Machine vision technology and the accompanying imaging and mapping software is opening doors to robots being used in an array of industries.

The growing use of robots is a positive development for the U.S. economy. There are three ways robotics can boost the bottom line. Read about it in the white paper Robots Fuel the Next Wave of Productivity and Growth available for download on A3.